Week 125

8th May, 2011

We’ve now been on the island for three weeks and away from UK for a month. You have to do it to understand that news from England, for me, becomes more not less important the longer we have been away. That is why I go to such lengths to get hold of newspapers. In the early days, it was queuing for hours outside some little shack, they laughingly called a newsagency, to get the only copy of ‘The Times’ which had been flown to Athens from London, transported down to Piraeus, put on a boat for five or so hours, picked up by van from the harbourside and dumped outside the shack where it sat until the owner deigned to turn up to open the ‘shop’. Even then, there would be an interminably long wait while this man, who couldn’t read anything but Greek, tried to decide if it was German or English and what price it should be sold at even though it was the same price every day. Each individual ‘foreign paper’ which would only be unpacked after the Greek papers had already been set out, had to be ticked off on the manifest as Greeks constantly interrupted to pay for their papers. I might have been waiting outside for two hours for the one copy of the day old Times but activity outside the shack will have alerted like-minded tourists like sharks to blood and Greek shopkeepers know no concept of queuing. They serve the first hand with money. Pauline & I got very skilled in ‘working’ the newspaper scene but still lost out on occasions. Then I would mooch around abjectly for hours wondering what the chattering classes in England were talking about, what had happened politically, where was that huge fire or that enormous motorway crash, that murder, etc.. Of course, over time, it has improved and now that we are on the island for longer periods than tourists, the shack man who has genuinely been upgraded to the newsagent, is prepared to save the newspaper for me in some nod of preferential treatment to an ‘almost resident’ but the papers are still at least one day out of date and in the Spring and Autumn months there may be a couple of days a week with no boat at all so the papers are even more out of date by the time I could get them.

Imagine, therefore, my delight when I drink my first cup of tea at 7.30 am to open the Kindle and find today’s paper has been delivered. It is revolutionary and wonderful. Nowadays, I have migrated to The Telegraph because of its better Business coverage. I take the political slant with a huge pinch of salt which makes me much more sceptical of the reporting and encourages me to read everything with a critical eye. The Telegraph is incredibly slanted in favour of Tory politics, conservative mores and monarchy. This slant is much easier to ‘read out’ than that of The Times so I am comfortable with my switch. Pauline tells me that the newsagent would charge €3.70 (Mon – Fri), €4.40 (Sat) & €5.00 (Sun). This works out at almost exactly £100.00 per month. The Telegraph delivered to the Kindle costs me £9.90 per month and its delivery is free. You will find it hard to understand my delight and incredulity at having this access on the morning of publication. Of course, nowadays, we have BBC News on Television and CNN plus Greek News channels but there is no substitute for a newspaper.

The other amazing thing about the change the Kindle has brought to our lives is on the internet. So far, we have been unable to get a telephone line in our house. Because of that, we have had to buy a 3G dongle from Cosmote. Reception is ok but not good and there are times when it is slow. Also, I am limited to 5Gb per month which I go close to all the time. It costs me about €35.00 per month which is not great but neither is the service. The Kindle is delivered over something called ‘Whispernet’ – an internet delivery service which works perfectly on this island. It always has strong signals unlike Cosmote. It is possible to web browse on the Kindle although it is a little cramped and in monochrome but it is an absolutely free service – all for the initial layout of about £120.00. An Apple i-pad would be useless to me here. I have no wi-fi and 3G charges would be exorbitant if I could get a connection. Kindle are currently developing and i-pad alternative which, if it uses Whispernet, would be ideal. In the meantime, I am grateful for huge mercies. I’m off to read the Sunday paper on Sunday.

Wonderful match between Wolves and West Brom this afternoon which I was pleased to see Wolves win. The second match was a little bit more prosaic but Stoke beat Arsenal well. The third game of the day was a total humiliation of Chelsea by Man Utd. What a delight to watch. Even so, I thought United’s goalkeeper was unbelievable. They couldn’t win at Wembley, could they???

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9th May, 2011

Today we have planned our first trip to Athens since arriving.  In five weeks, it will be ten weeks since Pauline had her hair cut and, being a top model, she needs to keep her standards up. We have established a hairdresser for her opposite The Electra Palace Hotel. She used them once before. Today we used Skype to contact the Hotel and book two nights – June 14th and 15th – negotiating a preferential rate for ‘regular customers’ and then booked a hair appointment for Pauline with a ‘Top Stylist’ (for a top model) on Thursday 16th in the morning.  We will leave Sifnos on a ferry at around 11.50 am and get to Piraeus at 5.20 pm. On Wednesday, we will take a taxi to the French B&Q –  Leroy Merlin – to look at one or two things including sun lounger chairs then go over the road to an electrical store, Kotsovolos (owned by Dixons) to look at a new fridge/freezer.  After Pauline’s hair appointment at 10.00 am on Thursday, we will check out of the hotel and take the train back down to Piraeus for a 2.30 pm hydrofoil which will get us back to Sifnos for 5.30 pm. That will be an enjoyable little jaunt.

In the middle of the morning, we went off to see our friends at their home which they have almost built with their bare hands from the raw materials on their land. The walls of the house are built using stone dug out of the land it stands on. The furniture is designed and built out of wood from the trees on their land. They are strongly tied to the philosophy of sympathy with the natural materials and the place in which they are living. It is a common philosophy on this island and I think across Greece that building should be in sympathy with nature and not intrusive upon it or in stark contrast to it. Although I do not subscribe to this philosophy myself, I found their house delightful. They have invited us back on Thursday afternoon for a barbecue. Pauline will make a lemon meringue pie using our lemons to take with us.

10th May, 2011

Today we are going to see an accountant. His profession as Accountant is pronounced Loyeestees but is just the word we use in English – Logistics. We have virtually no payments apart from electricity and food, Satellite TV and internet connection to make in Greece. There is no income tax for us, no Council tax (That is payed by shopkeepers for everyone.) All police, street lighting, refuse clearance, road maintenance, etc is free to us. We don’t have to pay for water because we have our own source. In the past three or four years, Greece has introduced a property tax which costs us about €150.00 per year but the form is so complicated, everyone has to have a loyeestees to fill it out and submit it to the Government.

What an interesting experience that was. We were told to go to the second house on the right on the road down to Kastro. That’s what we did but it turned out to be an architect. We were a bit embarrassed about disturbing him but he was very pleasant, spoke a little English and was on his way to the accountant’s office so he took us there himself. It turns out that we have no more tax to pay which is wonderful. Also, after six years of asking, our electricity supply may become ‘official’ within the next twelve months or so. If they move any faster, we’ll never keep up!

After Lamb Filo Parcels & Greek Salad with a beer outside in the sunshine, we felt very tired and had a snooze while watching a Greek Cookery programme. Soon it was 4.00 pm and we thought we had better do some gardening. Our pepper plants are ready for planting out – about 10” high. In fact one has already started fruiting. The planting method is to dig large holes, put well rotted manure that Apostolis delivered from his farm two years ago at the bottom followed by some commercial compost and garden soil. The plant must be sunk in a ‘bowl’ shape of soil so that watering doesn’t run off but goes straight down to the roots before the sun can evaporate it. We hope that younger readers will not become too impatient with our techniques. Gardening is a specialism for those who have entered the retirement home of life. We have time but the pace is slower. All things come to fruition if not rushed.

The world around is still smothered in wild flowers because of the rain. This time last year we were going through a heat wave and all vegetation had been burned off. The first photo shows the scene from our bedroom window. The other two are at the end of the garage.

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11th May, 2011

Cool quiet day today. 20F and General Strike – No ferries, schools, Post Office, Banks, Hospitals, Trains, Buses, etc. The supermarket was open so we went shopping, read the newspaper and had lunch. After that, Pauline made bread and biscuits while I did some writing and some gardening. Heavy rain is forecast for tomorrow. We have been invited to a barbecue. We’ll see!

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12th May, 2011

We woke to blue skies, fleecy, white clouds, a bit of a sharp breeze and a chilly temperature of 18C. I don’t think we will have heavy rain or any rain today. I go into the garden to water the plants as we will be out for most of the afternoon. Yesterday, the General Strike saw thousands of workers in the streets of Athens protesting with rocks to throw at the police who retaliated with tear gas. On the surface, it doesn’t appear to get any better. However, last year I spoke to a young man about the economic situation. He was full of left wing, communist bravado. The troubles were all of the making of the rich elite but those who had to pay were the poor, little people like him.They would not. They would get rid of this Government and refuse to pay these debts. I came away thinking, ‘There is no hope.’. A few days ago – nearly a year on – I spoke to the same young man again and was surprised how his view had moderated. ‘This is still a big problem but we must get out of it. I don’t know how – perhaps we will all have to pay. We must do it together.’ Maybe there will be enough Greeks like him to make the difference. Unfortunately, Samaras, the Leader of the Opposition New Democracy Party appears to be cultivating cheap popularity by chiming with the protesters.

Before we went to our friends’ house for the barbecue, I picked three, fat and juicy lemons and Pauline made a Lemon Meringue Pie. It looked fantastic. We had to carry it rather gingerly in the car along with a couple of bottles of wine. When we got there, the barbecue was a beautiful, brick built bread/pizza oven with open motorised, spit driven barbecue area attached. Four chickens had been turning on the spit for hours before we arrived. Salad was hurriedly made, rusk bread chopped up and a long table covered in white cloth. We had three, lovely, homely hours eating, drinking and discussing the politics of Greece.

One of the things that we came away from our barbecue discussions with was a much better understanding of why the Greeks are so intransigent. You may have read that many Greek Government employees receive more payments than there are months in the year. The thirteenth monthly salary has been expected and paid for years. This doesn’t play well in Europe but, as they pointed out, this was started by the Government as a way of not officially increasing wage rates. They paid an extra month’s salary for holiday pay. As he also pointed out, thirteen months pay in Greece was equal to eight or nine month’s pay in UK. In just the same way, the Greeks cheat on tax because of the frenzied and uncontrolled way the Government attempts to levy it. Tax inspectors will swoop on their restaurant three or four times a year and just arbitrarily demand a certain payment. If you ask, ‘Why?’, they say that they will stay for days and go through their books so they just pay. They don’t know where the money, paid in cash, is going. On one occasion, the radio was playing in the restaurant so the tax inspector demanded money for Royalties. When it was pointed out that all the people singing were now dead, the tax inspector threatened to investigate them further. In other words, they were arguing that a corrupt system was inevitably sucking them in. The trouble is, it doesn’t seem to be a way out of this.

13th May, 2011

We’ve had a really lazy day today and we both feel guilty. It is symptomatic of early retirement. We told ourselves that we must continue to have aims, ambitions, plans to achieve and, largely, we have. We wake at 7.00 am and are up by 7.30 am every day. We set ourselves tasks to get through just as we would at work. Over the past two years, so much has happened that it hasn’t been difficult to motivate ourselves. Today we had a apathetic day and we both feel that we have let ourselves down. Tomorrow we will try harder and do more before the football: the Man. Utd. game and then the Cup Final.Oh, Life is so tough!

14th May, 2011

Yesterday was a cool 21C/70F. Today is set to be a couple of degrees warmer.It is a lovely, sunny day with not a breath of wind. Readers will be pleased to hear that Peppers and Courgettes are growing well. Salad seedlings are developing as are Onions and Potatoes. About this time of year we start to panic about the enormity of work required to maintain two homes – clearing the garden, cleaning the windows, painting the gate, refreshing the walls, etc, etc, etc. We look at each other and say, ‘Shall we sell it?’ and then we analyse what actually has to be done, get our heads down and get on with it. After all, what else would we do? You know of the politician who accused his election opponent of going round stirring up apathy. I think he’s been here.